Mindfulness for Breaking Bad Habits

Take Back Control: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Your Bad Habits

Do you ever feel like you’re on autopilot, reaching for sugary snacks when stressed or mindlessly scrolling through social media for what feels like hours? We all have those persistent habits that can hold us back from feeling our best. But what if there was a way to become more aware of these patterns and actually break free from them?

This is where the power of mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness isn’t about achieving some mystical state of zen or emptying your mind completely. It’s about cultivating a present-moment awareness, observing your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judgement. By practising mindfulness, we can gain valuable insights into our habits and unlock the power to change them for the better.

Related: 4 Ways to Start Practicing Everyday Mindfulness

[VIDEO] How Mindfulness Can Help You Quit Bad Habits (For Good!)

Prefer to watch a video? Click the link below to watch as Body & Mind psychologist, Jessica shares evidence-based tips for breaking unresourceful habits using mindfulness and other therapies. For best viewing, watch it in full screen. Alternatively, you can watch or listen to the video on Facebook here.

Important note: The information shared within this article and video is not a replacement for professional help. Refer to the resources listed at the end of this article and consult your GP to discuss your unique situation. If you, or someone you know, is in a crisis, please reach out to one of the 24/7 helplines listed below: 

– Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
– Lifeline: 13 11 14
– Open Arms: 1800-011-046

Understanding The Nature of Habits: Why Habits (Particularly Bad Habits) Become Sticky

Before we dive into how mindfulness can help us break bad habits, let’s understand how these habits become ingrained in the first place. It all boils down to a simple loop: trigger, behaviour, reward.

Imagine you’re feeling overwhelmed after work (trigger). Your automatic response might be to reach for a bag of chips for comfort (behaviour). That sugary snack provides a temporary reward, a little dopamine hit that feels good in the moment.

The problem is that our brains love efficiency. The more we repeat this loop, the stronger the connection becomes. Eventually, the trigger – feeling stressed – automatically leads to the behaviour – grabbing the chips – without us even thinking about it. It becomes unconscious.

Mindfulness: The Key to Disrupting Bad Habits

So, how do we break free from this loop and take back control? This is where mindfulness steps in. By practising mindfulness, we can become more aware of those automatic triggers that lead to our unwanted habits. We can notice the feeling of stress rising in our bodies before we reach for the chips. We can observe the urge to scroll through social media mindlessly before we even unlock our phones. This awareness is the key to breaking free from old patterns.

Once we see the trigger coming, we have a choice – we can react on autopilot or choose a different response. Perhaps instead of mindlessly snacking, we take a few deep breaths or engage in a short meditation to manage the stress. Maybe instead of scrolling through social media, we take a walk or connect with a loved one. Mindfulness empowers us to make conscious choices that align with our long-term goals.

Putting Mindfulness into Action: Practical Tips for Breaking Habits

Now that you understand the power of mindfulness, let’s explore some practical ways to incorporate it into your daily routine and break those nagging habits:

  • Short Guided Meditations: There are plenty of free guided meditations available online or through apps like Calm (included with all our programs). Start with short, 5-minute sessions that focus on bringing your awareness to the present moment. The goal is to practise coming back to the present moment, not to quieten your mind. Notice how your attention wanders and gently guide it back to your breath or surroundings. Every meditation is helping you to train your brain.
  • Focus on Your Breath: Throughout your day, take a few moments to simply focus on your breath. Feel the rise and fall of your chest with each inhale and exhale. This simple practice can help anchor you in the present and interrupt automatic thoughts and behaviours. The goal is to notice your breath sensations without judgement. Practice observing its natural rhythm and how it changes throughout the day.
  • Mindful Journaling: Take 10 minutes each day to write down your thoughts and feelings. Notice any patterns or triggers that lead to your unwanted habits. Mindfulness journaling can help you gain valuable insights into your behaviour. The goal is to observe your thoughts and feelings, without judgement. Notice any recurring themes or patterns connected to your habits but try not to dwell too much on their meaning.

Mindfulness + Other Tools = Supercharged Success

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for understanding your habits and creating positive change in your life. However, it’s important to remember that for some deeply ingrained habits, mindfulness might be most effective when combined with other strategies.

Think of mindfulness as your secret weapon to enhance the effectiveness of other habit-change programs. Many structured programs offer fantastic tools and support, like smoking cessation programs or therapy for emotional eating.  Mindfulness adds another layer by giving you the awareness to recognize those triggers and cravings before they control you.

Related: How Mindfulness Can Help You Build Resilience

Building a Well-Rounded Approach to Habit Change

Imagine using mindfulness alongside a smoking cessation program. The program offers nicotine replacements and coping mechanisms, while mindfulness helps you identify situations that trigger your urge to smoke. Similarly, with emotional eating, therapy can help you understand the emotional roots, while mindfulness allows you to notice those emotions and choose a healthier response.

Related: Stop Hustling with These Mindfulness Strategies

Additional Tools for Habit Change

Here’s how you can build a well-rounded approach to habit change that goes beyond mindfulness:

  • Set Clear Goals and Intentions:  Mindfulness helps you become aware of your habits, but setting clear goals gives you direction. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to reduce your daily screen time by an hour? Once you have a specific goal, you can use mindfulness to stay focused and motivated.
  • Replace Unhealthy Habits with Positive Alternatives: Our brains crave routine. So instead of just trying to eliminate a bad habit, replace it with a positive one. Feeling stressed and reaching for chips? Try a short meditation or some mindful stretches instead. Mindfulness helps you identify those triggers for unhealthy habits, and replacing them with something positive disrupts the old cycle and creates a new, healthier routine.
  • Seek Support: Sometimes, going it alone can be tough. Joining a support group or seeking professional help from a therapist can provide invaluable guidance and encouragement. Mindfulness combined with the support of others can significantly increase your chances of success.

Conclusion: Your Journey to Lasting Change Starts Now

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for understanding your habits and creating lasting change. By incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine, you’ll gain the awareness you need to break free from old patterns and cultivate new, healthier behaviours. Remember, change takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, celebrate your progress, and don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it. You’ve got this!

To learn more about our mindfulness programs which include access to the World’s Happiest App, Calm, as well as regular consults with trained health professionals (like Jessica), click here.

Additional Resources

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to breaking a bad habit. The best approach for you will depend on the specific habit you are trying to break, as well as your individual circumstances. The resources listed below can provide you with a good starting point, but it is always best to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to get personalised advice.

  • Quitline: This is a free telephone service that provides support and information to people who want to quit smoking. You can call them at 13 QUIT (13 7848).
  • Butterfly Foundation: This organization supports people with eating disorders and their families. You can call their national helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).
  • National Drug and Alcohol Hotline: This 24/7 service provides information and support for people with alcohol or other drug problems. You can call them at 1800 250 015.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): AA is a global support group program specifically designed for people struggling with alcoholism. They offer free group meetings all over Australia, providing a safe space to share experiences and gain support from others on their journey to recovery. You can find your local AA meeting through their website or by calling their national helpline at 1300 222 222.
  • National Debt Helpline: This free and confidential service provides information and support to people in Australia who are struggling with debt. You can call them at 1800 007 009 or chat online with a financial counsellor. 
  • MensLine Australia: This is a 24/7 telephone and online support service for men with all sorts of issues, including addiction. You can call them at 1300 78 99 78.
  • Your GP: Your doctor can be a great resource for information and support on how to break a bad habit. They can also refer you to a specialist if needed.

Remember, the best approach for you will depend on the specific habit and your circumstances. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for personalised advice.

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